We understand that divorce or separation proceedings can be a stressful and complicated process. Therefore, we have created this glossary to ensure you understand all aspects of the legal processes which you will need to follow. From the various technical terms involved in court proceedings and legal documents to the different child arrangement orders and agreements for which you can apply, our glossary will help you improve your understanding of complicated legal matters. By doing so, you can commence divorce or separation proceedings with confidence in your own legal expertise.


Acknowledgement of service

A document sent by the Court to the respondent (spouse of the person who is filing for divorce) which requests the respondent fill out the form acknowledging they have received the divorce petition. It must be signed and returned within 14 days.


A witness with no religious reason that prevents taking the court Oath will declare that the evidence statements they make are all true.


A legal term which means a Court hearing will be postponed to a later date. This date will typically be specified at the time.


Adoption is the act where the rights and responsibilities of a child are given to adopters, while the responsibilities and rights of the natural or birth parents end.


A member of the opposite sex who is not the spouse of a married individual has intercourse with said married spouse of a voluntary nature. A reason used in divorce.


A solicitor/barrister who is representing the party during a court proceeding, such as a hearing in divorce court.


This is a legal sworn statement used as evidence by the court as a way to affirm that the evidence declared under oath is true.

Ancillary relief

This is used after a divorce petition, judicial separation, or nullity has been issued to request financial settlement from an ex-spouse or ex-civil partner.


To end a marriage without the process of divorce. An annulment is typically only an option in the first few months of a valid marriage. See Nullity.    


A person has the right to request the higher court or other system to review a decision made by a tribunal council or lower court. During the appeal the court can uphold or overturn the original decision. Permission (leave) is necessary for an appeal to happen.


The term used to refer to the individual applying for a divorce or other court order.        


There are a variety of options such as a divorce petition, which is an application or legal form filled out to request the court take action to end the marriage.      


The term used to describe money, estates, vehicles, and other items that have a monetary value and are owned by someone.  


In the court there is a person (the bailiff) who can serve (deliver) documents to people such as the respondent in a divorce.


Typically when a male marries more than one person. However, anyone who marries another person while still legally married to another is guilty of bigamy. In most instances the two marriages are a secret from the corresponding spouses in each, meaning that the offending partner does not share their original or second marriage with the respective spouses.


Solicitors prepare legal documents (briefs) for court hearings if they are instructing a barrister to conduct the hearing.


A way to incorporate all court documents required at Court hearings. A bundle of all documents is prepared for parties of the case, witnesses, and the judge as a means of supplying all necessary parties with the documents being used to make the case.          

Consent Order

Parties in a case agree to certain terms, which are set in a legal order showing consent from both sides.

Contact Order

Involving family law, it is an order where the court determines child contact with a specific person. This contact may be face to face or indirect such as in the form of letters and cards. This has recently been changed and is now known as a Child Arrangements Order which specifies with whom the child lives and spends time.


A person involved with the respondent in a divorce and who committed adultery. The name may or may not be in the petition, but will still be involved in the divorce case to prove adultery.


Another legal term that applies to solicitors or barristers during legal situations.

Court of Protection

A specialised court where property, affairs, health, and welfare cases are heard for individuals who lack the mental capacity to take care of it themselves. The court is used to decide if the individual needs counsel and if the person of capacity will get to sign a Lasting Power of Attorney.


A legal term for when the solicitor/barrister of the other party involved in the case questions a witness for the current party calling witnesses.


An old term that has been replaced by Residence and most recently replaced by a Child Arrangements Order. This term refers to a parent who is asking for a residence order for a child for whom they wish to care.


In reference to a person's mental acuity to be able to make clear decisions in a legal matter.


Short for Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is a government body that deals with custody cases involving divorced couples, child endangerment, and provides evidence for cases on the welfare of children.

CAFCASS officer

In order for the court to make proper arrangements for children, should parents be unable to provide a proper arrangement after divorce, an independent officer from CAFCASS will be sent to create reports and meet with children and parents.        

Care Order

This is a court order designed to ensure the Local Authority is caring for a child.


The argument which parties discuss during a court hearing, or an action the court can take.

Case law

Historically cases have developed laws which is what Case Law is defined as: the laws with which court decisions are made (precedents being set).

Case Management Conference (CMC)

The Judge and all parties in a case will meet to explore progress with the legal situation. Some cases have one while others may have numerous meetings.


Stands for Cash Equivalent Transfer Value, and applies to financial settlements in which a pension fund is transferred or dispersed as part of a settlement.


Judges and barristers use "chambers" as offices at court hearings, in which meetings can take place in private offices rather than be open to the public.

Child Arrangements Order

Involving family law, it is an order where the court specifies with whom the child lives and spends time.

Child Support Agency (CSA)

Child maintenance is conducted through this agency, which is a part of the Social Security Department.

Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC)

The new CSA for governing child support payments and ensuring fathers or parents pay on time.

Child Support Act

A law put in place to ensure children's welfare, maintenance, and proper reviews are conducted by the CSA for child protection and support.

Child support maintenance

A financial payment which a non-resident guardian/parent must provide for their support of their child (children).        

Child of the family

A common legal term which refers to biological, adopted, and step children who are treated like family.

Civil partnership

A same-sex couple partnership that has many of the same obligations and rights as a married couple of different sex.

Clean break

Ensures no financial claims can be made in the future by one party against another after a divorce. It is a court order to dismiss further applications being made in the future.


This can include same sex or different sex couples who live together, but who have never married or entered into a civil partnership.

Collaborative Law

Parties meet together with solicitors who encourage couples to mediate a settlement, where solicitors are there to help to determine what is legal.

Common law marriage

Not considered legal in the court, but often a social term to describe long-term relationships in which a couple cohabitates. No marriage or civil partnership rights exist in this type of situation.   

Decree Absolute

In divorce this is the last step (order) that shows a divorce is finalised in the eyes of the court and allows the ex-spouses to re-marry other parties.

Decree Nisi

The court provides this order as a provisional agreement to dissolve a marriage, but it is not the final decision, thus it does not officially end the partnership/marriage.


Any person that depends upon another for any type of support such as financial or housing.


In a legal context this term refers to the instructions which the Judge provides regarding the orders and steps a case will take.


In a financial settlement parties are required to reveal all financial documents that have to do with the case, whether in support or in order for the Court to make a fair judgment.       


Rather than divorce, Civil Partnerships go through a dissolution with similar steps to divorce in which the partnership is eventually seen as ended completely and legally for both parties to enter into other partnerships if they wish.


Finality to marriage as decreed by law through a 4 step process in which Decree Absolute officially finalises the proceedings.

Divorce Petition

The application required to start divorce proceedings by way of telling the court a petitioner wishes for a divorce.

Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA

Now it is a Lasting Power of Attorney, but some still exist as they were signed prior to the changeover to LPoA. It gives the rights of financial care for a mentally incapacitated individual to someone else (e.g. often as a consequence of dementia).


The term used to describe assets and rights of property that the person or deceased person owns.


Materials and documents that support a court case on behalf of a person or parties involved.

Ex Parte Hearing

Application in which a party provides their case in court without another party being involved. When translated the term means 'without notice.'

Expert Witness

This is a person who has expertise of employment in a specific field or subject that can provide evidence or testimony in a case. Often scholars are asked to discuss psychology, science, or police officers involved in a case.


Stands for Financial Dispute Resolution and is a second hearing in court related to financial settlements where the Judge overviews offers suggested, makes a likely offer and sets a final hearing for the parties to make a decision.   


This is a term describing the delivery of bundles or documents to the court.

First Appointment

A financial settlement hearing and the first one to be held in front of a Judge who overviews documents, provides directions, and sets a time scale for the FDR (see above) and Final hearing for cases.        

Financial Settlement

The process by which financial support is determined whether it be capital split, maintenance, property adjustment, pension, child support, or other assets which will be divided after divorce.

Form A

This starts the financial settlement process where a party can seek relief after divorce. There is a fee to file with the court.

Form E

This form lays out the financial assets which both parties have in a divorce. It will be turned in to the court for financial settlement procedures.

Form H

Outlines the legal costs for those seeking financial settlement through court in which all VAT will be included in the schedule of payments.

Freezing Order

An order designed to ensure no party in a divorce can remove assets or dispose of them during a divorce and financial settlement phase.

General Power of Attorney

Used to appoint one person to look after another if they are out of the country on business or in need of temporary oversight for their financial affairs. It is not lasting and can be revoked. Often it specifies a spouse for a married couple, and thus may need changing after a divorce.


Involving children, this is a term to describe a person who will manage, protect, and safeguard a child’s interests during court cases


The legal term for describing a trial using a judge. For family law, hearings are closed rather than open for public viewing.

Implacable hostility

A legal term used to describe a parent/guardian trying to withhold child contact with another, where no justification or rational reason can be found. 


A forbidding legal option the court can order or require of a party to do something; forbidding a parent from contacting a child or requiring the party to disclose all assets.

Inter Parties Hearing

This includes 'interested' petitioners and respondents where both parties are present and given reasonable time by the court to attend the hearing and be heard by a Judge.    

Interim Order

An order that is not final, but is made during a case as the Judge and court work towards a final solution.    

Issue / Issuing

The start of legal proceedings in which an application is turned into the court with fee. The court then seals the written document to be served on the Respondent in the case.

Joint tenancy

Sharing of land with two or more parties, where if one tenant expires the property goes to the surviving tenant irrespective of what the will states.  

Joint and several liability

Responsibility is shared by two or more parties. For example, in the case of a debt where, individually or with a group, both parties are responsible for their portion.


A court officer who administers legal orders and hears cases under the English legal system. This is the person who renders a decision in a case after all evidence has been considered.  


The sentence, decision, or final order of the court in a legal case.       

Judicial Review

Lower Court decisions can be reviewed by the High Court to ensure public and other parties have received a fair and lawful decision in a case. Often happens after an appeal is filed.


A court has legal authority of certain matters in a particular area. For example; a specific regional section of England versus a High Court that might have national authority.      

Lasting Power of Attorney (Welfare LPA)

Replaced Enduring POA and places important welfare and financial decisions with someone of mental capacity over a person who no longer has the ability to make proper decisions for their own welfare.


Meaning permission, this term applies to the steps the court will request of a party or parties in order to move forward in a case.

Legal Aid / Public Funding

The process through which low income parties can get help through state funded agencies for legal fees (becoming increasingly restricted).         

Litigant in person

This is a person who defends or begins a case without a proper solicitor or barrister. A person is entitled to try their own case or be accompanied by someone else, who can advise, but not speak with the court directly.

Litigation friend

A person who helps a child or mentally incapable individual with legal cases in a court of Law.

Living together

Another term for cohabitation; where marriage and civil partnership rights are not legally applicable.


Not a form of residence in legal terms, but a filing procedure (delivery) of documents to court.


A financial settlement in a lump sum of money paid by one spouse to the other after divorce. The court determines the payment and typically sets it up as “periodical payments” or a lump sum.

Maintenance pending suit

This is considered a temporary court order requesting maintenance (financial settlement) to be made while a divorce is ongoing. This is typically requested prior to the Decree Absolute being granted.

Matrimonial home

The home of a married couple, where the husband and wife mainly live during their entire marriage.


Resolution of disputes, like divorce, using a third party who is independent of both parties (mediator) to assist in the mutual resolution of the dispute, rather than involving the court. If this process fails then the applicable court steps are initiated.  


A legal representative in mediation who is independent of both parties working towards a resolution out of court.


A loan borrowed from a bank or building society to purchase property. For the purpose of financial settlements, a loan on a piece of property or house can factor into the value of said property and thus determine if a settlement using that asset is possible. It may also be a payment made, to cover the mortgage, to a spouse in order to keep the property as shelter for the ex-spouse and the children this spouse supports and takes care of.

Non-Molestation Order

This comes with an injunction and orders one person to stop using or threatening, harassing, pestering or intimidating another. This is used in divorce when unreasonable behaviour is present from one spouse towards another, or in the case wherein a threat of violence was made.

Non-resident parent

This is a parent of a child who is not living with said child, but may or may not have rights to spend time with the child in question.  


A legal form used to declare a marriage is annulled or void for the court to recognise and dissolve the marriage.


Made in a court of law wherein a witness states under God or a sacred being (if the person believes in any form of deity) that they will speak only the truth whilst giving testimony.

Occupation Order

Involving family law, it is an order made by the court controlling who may occupy property.

Official solicitor

In family law an official solicitor can be appointed for a child (children) or a person of mental incapacity to represent them in a hearing or court case. The barrister can only be appointed by the Lord Chancellor.


A blanket term used to describe a direction the court requests parties to follow, such as a parental responsibility order detailing the rights of parents for children involved in divorce.

Oral evidence

A type of evidence verbally shared with the court rather than being written in a legal document.

Parental responsibility

An outline of the responsibilities, powers, duties, rights, and authority which parents have for a child as stated in English law. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility; however, unless married to the birth mother, the father will not automatically gain the same rights. Another exception is if the mother puts the father’s name on the birth certificate of the child if the child was born after 1st December 2003.

Parental Responsibility Order

A court order used in family law involving children; in which an assignment of parental responsibilities are decided by the judge or accepted by the judge as per the parents’ request.

Party / Parties

A term used to describe applicants and respondents in court cases. It can apply to one or the other, or both as in “the parties.”

Pension Sharing Order

This is an order used in financial settlements after a divorce in which the court provides a part of the pension to both spouses, sometimes with equal division and other times not. Find out more about Pension Sharing Orders.

Periodical Payments

A payment arrangement after divorce where one spouse makes payments to the other as a means of supporting a spouse with lower income or to help support children.

Personal service

In legal matters there may be times in which legal documents are hand delivered, meaning personal delivery service rather than through the postal service.


While Bigamy means being married to two people, polygamy usually means there are more than two partners. For example, three women being married to the same man. Typically the multiple spouses are aware of each other, but not always.

Post Nuptial

An agreement that may confirm the prenuptial or explain new wishes and agreements made after the prenuptial agreement.

Power of Attorney

There are several types of PoA; however, this is a legal document that appoints a specific person(s) to look after property and financial assets during your life should you be unable to due to age or mental capacity.

Power of Arrest

A court order used to arrest a person, often attached to an injunction, due to the arrested individual breaking a prior court order. Police must have this to arrest the person again. 

Prenuptial Agreement

Although the court does not have a law requiring this agreement to be upheld, it is a legal agreement which spouses make before marriage to determine the financial division of assets, child custody or other financial matters. The court can use the agreement as a guideline during divorce for financial resolution. The agreement is meant to protect the spouse with the most assets.


A legal document used in financial settlements of an estate of a deceased individual, in which claims are resolved before the estate is divided.

Probate Court

This is the court that handles probate claims where multiple claims or issues arise due to improper wills or when someone contests the will.

Prohibited Steps Order

This is an order used to prevent something from happening, e.g. to prevent a child from being taken abroad or undergoing a name change, particularly during an emotionally charged divorce case, where flight risk of one spouse is a possibility.

Property Adjustment Order

Used in financial settlements this Order can transfer property from a joint name to a single spouse (ex-spouse).       

Putative father

The legal term to describe a male person who is presumed or alleged to be a child’s father. It applies to a father who is not married to the birth mother.

Queens Counsel (QC):

Barristers can reach different levels of expertise; this is the top level to be attained (commonly referred to as ‘silk’).

Residence Order

This is an old term for a court order that determines which parent or guardian with whom the child will live. The order may specify sole residency or shared residency by naming one or joint parties. This has now been amended to a Child Arrangements Order.

Resident parent

A child or children who live(s) with a parent or guardian is said to live with their “resident parent.”


A concept created in 1982 in which those dealing with family issues, such as divorce, can come to an agreement through more means than the court. For example; mediation to dissolve marriage, resolve financial issues and discuss child custody.


This is the term used to describe the spouse who did not petition for divorce, but instead received the petition from the court.

Section 25 Factors

This is a list of 25 specific concepts that a court must assess on behalf of a legal financial matter used during a financial settlement after or during divorce.


This is a period in which a married couple decides to spend time away from each other as a means of working out problems or if divorce is warranted.

Separation Agreement

A legal formal request for a non-married couple to determine what may occur if they decide to separate (with regard to assets or children). The court does not have to consider it a legally binding agreement.  


The legal term used to describe communication -whether it be electronic, post or in person delivery- of legal documents.

Skeleton Argument

This is a written legal summary for the court detailing the main factors of a case, such as during an ancillary relief application or a Child Arrangements Order application.

Specific Issue Order

Medical treatment, school, and other child related issues are determined by this Court Order which is specific to a type of issue rather than the whole of child responsibilities.


A written document of legal means for a witness to write down any details they recall of an event or legal matter.


This is a suspension for proceedings in court. It means no additional action can occur on the case until the Stay is lifted.

Supervision Order

The Court can order a local authority to watch over a child for their safety even when there are parents or guardians with parental responsibilities.

Tenancy in Common

Applying to living arrangements and property, it means land shares are owned by two or more individuals. If one party expires then it becomes part of their estate, rather than automatically becoming part of any remaining tenant’s shares. It applies when there is a joint tenancy in place.  


A legal statement provided by a witness under oath to supply evidence in a case. 

Trustee Act Power of Attorney

A type of power of attorney in which a person (trustee) has been appointed to care for the person named in the PoA document with regard to property of which you own or are a trustee.


During legal situations parties may make promises. When it is called an undertaking this means it is a legal promise that can be enforced by the Court.     

Unreasonable behaviour

A reason for divorce where the respondent has shown unreasonable behaviour towards the petitioner. It is so unreasonable that the marriage is irreparable.


A legal document that outlines what a deceased person wanted for their estate and any assets; typically a division of assets among remaining family members.


The Court calls a person who saw an event and can provide evidence as a witness, in which they are called under oath to supply details of the event or occurrence.

Witness summons

A Witness will receive a document from the Court which requests them to appear during a hearing and provide testimony (evidence under oath) to an event.